Rationally speaking, there is a broad scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change, yet we have not managed to deal with it in practical terms. There is a dismaying lack of progress on many environmental issues despite the passage of almost fifty years since the inception of the environmental movement. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we have not made necessary changes in our economic systems. Secondly, we have not dealt with fact that humans are irrational. Our behaviour is motivated not only (perhaps not even primarily) by rational argument, but also unconscious aspects of our selves and cultures.

Economic systems are actually directly related to our assumptions about ourselves and our place in the world. Before modern economies developed, trade necessarily involved social obligations, with the giving of gifts in ritual contexts creating alliances and managing the movement of resources, and land use patterns. With the creation of money economies, the social components of trade in ritual practices were largely removed, leaving transactional exchanges. This resulted in the formation of economies as something separate from ritual practices, and not governed by ethics apart from what the law requires.

While scientific knowledge of what is happening in our ecosystems is crucial to the pursuit of sustainability, it is not sufficient. Science tells us what the rational thing to do is, but does not provide us with the psychological motivation to do it, and unconscious factors too often direct our behaviour into overconsumption. While we might hope that rational argument will lead to a political consensus to get us to change our behaviour, it has undermined the shared meaning and value systems that used to regulate our interactions with the environment. We cannot simply ignore our unconscious motivations and act rationally. When we pretend to be completely rational we let ourselves be led by advertising to consume more than we need, rather than satisfying our psychological needs in more sustainable ways. Ritual can help us reconnect with one another and our environments, and may be an effective means of leveraging systemic change – and festivals like ENVigorate are fun to boot.

For more information, see our recent article:

Davy, Barbara Jane & Stephen S. Quilley. 2018. “Ritual Matters: Changing Ontologies, Values, and Ecological Conscience Formation” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 12.4: 384-418. DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.36834. https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/JSRNC/article/view/36834